(Better Church Websites series—Part 1)

Church communications are more important than ever in today’s fast-paced, digitally-driven environment. When someone is looking for information on a church, whether their beliefs, times of worship, staff, etc., likely the first places they go is the church’s website.

I can’t overstate this enough—your church website could be keeping people out just as well as pulling people in.

When considering the best ways to design a website for your church, some things should be avoided at all costs. Poor design or messaging can hurt your Google search rankings, discourage visitors from coming back to your website, or even prevent potential visitors from showing up to church at all.

Let’s break down 6 things to avoid when developing and designing your church website.

Mistake #1: Not Making a Mobile-Friendly Website

One of the most common issues I see with church websites is that they are still only designed for desktop computers or laptops only. While it might seem practical to start with a website built for desktop use first, there are a number of benefits to be had when a website is designed for both desktop and mobile devices.

  • People are using their phone more often: At least 57% of all Google searches are performed on a mobile device, which is a great measure to account for when considering your own website traffic. People will use mobile devices more and more, so don’t miss out on this audience
  • Google prioritizes great mobile websites: Google recently announced that they are going “mobile first” with their indexing. What this means is that they place priority on mobile-friendly websites over websites that are only desktop-friendly. Missing a mobile site could definitely hurt your rankings.
  • Mobile-friendly websites are easier to navigate and use: A mobile-friendly site does not mean a scaled-down version of the desktop website. With a scrolling-style format, users will be inclined to explore your website and spend more time on it, making more opportunities for engagement.
  • Your website could be penalized by Google: If you don’t have an adequate mobile version of your website, Google could keep your site from ranking, pushing it farther down in the search results.

So how do we make a mobile-friendly site?
Developing a mobile version of your website is likely easier than it might sound. If you’re using a CMS platform such as WordPress, Joomla or Magento, it’s likely that you can find a template on a website such as Themeforest.net or Creativemarket.com that will have a mobile version built into the design. If your website is a little more complex or custom, it might take bringing in a developer or designer to help build it out, but the investment is worth the time and money.
Google will continue to prioritize and throttle mobile websites and you don’t want to have to play catch-up once mobile websites become even more important to search results.

Mistake #2: Using Sliders (anywhere on the website!)

For a long time, sliders were the jewel of the internet and every website you visited had one on the homepage, maybe even on every page. However, as mobile websites became a bigger priority and website speed became a significant ranking factor, sliders were slowly phased out by many webmasters. What’s more, research suggested that visitors may have even been tuning them out.

Yet and still, website sliders remain on several websites. Here’s why you should avoid putting them on your church website in 2019.

  • Sliders are slow: They load slowly on the website and cause the entire website’s speed to suffer as a result. (More on this in the next section.)
  • Most visitors never see the second slide: When a visitor arrives on your website, they might spend an average of 3 seconds at the top of the page before scrolling down to the rest of your website’s content. This means a large bulk of users are not seeing your second or even the third slide.
  • Priority is split for visitors: The “above the fold” content, or what you see right when you land on a page is the most important real estate on your website. When you have a slider, you split your primary message between 2 or 3 messages instead of a single, unified message.
  • Single images perform better: Not only do single images with a call to action button load faster, they also perform better. Having a single, concise message at the top of the website makes more of an impact for the visitor than multiple messages that they may or may not even see.

In some cases, I’ve seen great websites that had sliders. Often times these websites have dedicated audiences who visit their website every day for new content, such as a news website or a publication, and don’t fit the traditional mold of how a church website might be different.

If you still want your slider, make sure you have analytics running and the understanding of your audience to do it in a way that works, without damaging your engagement.

Mistake #3: A Slow-loading Website

Page speed is a significant ranking factor for Google search results. The faster a website is, the better it ranks on Google and the better it performs for users visiting the site. A slow-loading website can cost you a potential visitor and even a few rankings in Google or Bing if you’re not carefully monitoring it.

Do everything you can to optimize page-load speed.

Here are a few ways to prevent your website from getting too slow, and to increased its load speed considerably:

  • Remove any sliders on the website: You can review the section above, but sliders are slow-loading and can drag the entire website down with it. As mentioned, use a single hero image with a single message or call-to-action button over it.
  • Limit number of images on a page: Images are powerful storytelling tools and are essential to any website. However, when building out different pages on your website, try to avoid an excessive amount of images as each one can slow down the website load time. Use images when illustration is necessary or helpful, don’t just fill a page with pictures for the sake of filling it.
  • Compress any images you use: Web images can be considerably compressed to smaller file sizes without impacting the appearance of the image. The smaller an image is, the faster it loads and the faster your website will load. If you don’t have a program like Photoshop, you can use tools like ShortPixel or WP Smusher (WordPress websites only) to compress your website’s images.
  • Remove unnecessary fonts and emojis from your website: Many websites have a default set of fonts and emoji files that come standard with the website’s theme or template. Be sure to remove those when you can so that there is less “junk” on your website.
  • Upgrade your hosting: Companies like GoDaddy offer hosting so cheap it’s hard to say no—but it does come at a cost. Cheaper hosting usually means a slower server or a server that’s carrying multiple websites. If you’re using a slow host, that results in your website loading slower as well. Look into faster hosting solutions—SiteGround and WPEngine are platforms I regularly use and recommend.

Test Your Speed
A great tool to test your website’s speed is Google Pagespeed Insights. You can get a quick gauge of your website’s page load speed and overall performance metrics.

Mistake #4: Online Giving is Missing or Hard to Find

While this might seem like a no-brainer, I often find that church websites have their online giving tucked away into a sub-menu or navigation item I would not have expected to look for. Many times I’ve gone to a website, looking to give a donation to the church, and left because I was unable to find where their online giving was—or if they even had it.

It should go without saying that online giving is a must for any church in 2019. Church-goers might not have cash-on-hand during a worship service but will gladly give their tithes and offerings online as soon as payday comes around. Not giving those people an option to give online could be robbing your church of a potential blessing.

Also make sure that your online giving link is placed in the main navigation at the top of the website. Within 1 second of arriving on your website, your website visitor should be able to easily spot where they can give their donations online.

If your church hasn’t already, set up an account with Adventist Giving to easily solicit tithes through your website. My wife and I both have Adventist Giving accounts with our home churches and use them to tithe, even though we are no longer in the same city or state as those churches. Our faithful commitment to our home churches remains connected through their platform and gives us an easy way to give our 10% back to the Lord.

Mistake #5: Contacting the Church isn’t Easy

Having a Contact Us page on your website is important, but so is providing an easy and simple way for visitors to call or email the church without leaving the homepage or landing page they came in on.

With the minimum amount of effort, a visitor should be able to get in touch with someone at the church. In the same way you want your church to be a warm and engaging environment when they arrive, you want the website to remove as many obstacles to engagement as possible.

Here are some ways you can make it easy for visitors to connect with you:

  • Put contact information in the main header: At the very top of the website, it’s become common to put a phone number and maybe even email address for easy outreach. The address, phone number and email should also be in the pages’ footer.
  • Make phone number click-to-call: This is a simple HTML code you can put into your website for all phone numbers on the site that allows both desktop users and mobile users to click a link and be directly taken to a phone call option. Here is a sample of the code: Call Us
  • Install a chat box on your website: If you’re interested in this option, chat software is a way for your website visitors to speak with a live person right away through the website. They are growing in popularity because of their ease of use but also because the engagement they can capture with your audience almost simultaneously when they arrive on the website. We recommend the Drift, but there is also Purechat or Tawk.to.
  • Let visitors text your church directly: One of my favorite tools is a church text app that connects church members and visitors with a live person via text called Pastors Line. Website visitors can text your church directly to find out more information or to speak with a church volunteer right away.

There are a number of things you can do to better engage your church. These are just a few ways to help establish connections and build relationships.

Mistake #6: Overuse of Stock Photography

While stock photos can enhance the look and feel of a website, when that’s all a church has, it doesn’t feel personal. People want to know who actually attends and what it looks like to be a member of your church. Stock photography might look nice but it isn’t genuine and won’t connect as strongly as an actual picture of church members in action.

Most times people are looking for a church that is real—not one that just tries to look that way.

I chose to highlight these 6 common mistakes because they are relatively easy fixes that can make a noteworthy difference when corrected.

All in all, remember your website is a valuable asset in communication, engagement, and even ministry. It can be something that gives your church tremendous value when used optimally.

Akande Davis is a digital marketing consultant who specializes in live streams and social media, with a special interest in helping Adventist organizations. Check out his business, Digital Pew, at digitalpew.com.